It's an unusual view for Steve Bauer. Looking up ahead to locate his fellow bike riders was a rare occasion when Bauer was one of the world's fastest bicycle racers. He usually had to look back over his shoulder. Today, 43-year-old Bauer, who won a silver medal in road racing for Canada at the Los Angeles Olympics, likes to ride in the midst of the pack, so he can chat with his fellow bikers about how much easier it is to ride around beautiful Niagara than it was in his teenage training days. Those training routes are now paved rather than gravel roads and Bauer is still riding them, but as a bicycle tour guide of his native Niagara.
After retiring from the pro ranks of bicycle racing five years ago, Bauer and his Belgian-born wife Annick launched Steve Bauer Bike Tours Inc. in the Niagara Region village of Queenston. Now, honeymooners join business executives breaking away from convention sessions, families, retirees, teens and baby-boomer couples for a leisurely bike tour of Niagara's beautiful wine district and points of history, led by Bauer, his wife or his trained staff.
The Bauers offer a wide selection of bicycle tours from an easy pace one-day Niagara tour to a taxing replica of the Tour de France, recommended only for those in very good physical shape.
The one-day Niagara tours cost $119 and for that you get a touring bike, helmet, a nice lunch at a winery, two winery tours with some taste testing and an explanation of the winemaking process. Plus there's a following support vehicle and a guide well versed on Niagara's exciting history.
Often the tour guide is Bauer or his wife, "but we can't get out with every tour group, so we have a group of well-trained staff to help us out," said Annick.
"Niagara offers some of the best bicycle touring opportunities in the world," said Bauer in a telephone interview from Provence, where he is setting up two seven-day French tours for the fall.
"I didn't appreciate how beautiful it is in Niagara until I started riding all over the world. We have great wineries, quaint villages, very significant history, beautiful scenery and they've added hundreds of kilometres of paved bicycle trails since my early days of riding Niagara."
As well as Bauer's public bike tours on Saturdays and Sundays, his firm conducts customized tours for corporate clients and private groups.
He also has extended bike tours through Europe, Costa Rica and Cuba. For the truly serious rider, Bauer can give you an authentically thigh-aching Tour de France experience. You get to ride the official route, meet some participants and see portions of the world's most famous bike race.
And you get to talk to Bauer about his own Tour de France life. He was in the grueling 21-day road race 11 times. In 1985 he won the Rookie of the Year crown. In 1988 he wore the leader's coveted yellow jersey for five days and finished fourth. He wore the yellow jersey for 10 consecutive days in 1990.
It's appropriate that Bauer and his wife run their touring company from a small shop and confectionery store called The Yellow Jersey. It's just down the street from Laura Secord's home in Queenston. The popular Niagara River recreational trail passes by their front door.
European tours, which include stays at 4-star hotels, cost $5,200 to $6,200 per person. Of course, on the $119 Niagara day tours Bauer will also tell his Tour de France stories.
The Bauers also conduct bike tours from inn to inn in Ontario and rugged cross-country rides for mountain bikers. Their Niagara tours are gentle and fun and at the end of the ride everybody gets a gift.
Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.
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